I have been thinking a lot about virginity recently.
A sex ed teacher recently asked me how I would respond to a 6th grade girl who asked for the definition of “virgin.” Does “virgin” apply to those who have done a wide range of sexual activities, but have not engaged in penile-vaginal intercourse? Or can “virgin” only apply to those who have not engaged in oral, anal, manual, or missionary-position, heterosexual sex? The essence of her question seemed to be, “Would Monica Lewinsky still be a virgin?” This teacher and her co-teacher disagreed on the answer to the Monica Lewinsky question, and they wanted my professional thoughts so they could present a unified front to the young girl who originally asked the question.
I essentially rejected the basis of the question.
This is a question I get a lot – I get it from parents, from children, from teenagers, from teachers, from grandparents, from non-parent-single-people. Everyone seems to want to know: What is a virgin?
But rather than answering, weighing in on this ridiculous point that carries such extreme emotional weight, I encourage the asker to look inwards and to try and identify why they want to know what sexual acts a virgin-no-longer-makes.
The answer is always this: “I want to know if _________ is still a virgin.” Please feel free to fill in the blank with whomever you so choose. Some of the more common fill-in-the-blank people include: me as I am, me as I once was, my best friend, my boyfriend, my child, my student, my grandchild.
And I scratch my head and ask: “Do you know what sexual acts they have done? Because if you don’t know, then having a definition of virginity won’t help you. If you do know, then why does it matter whether those acts can be defined as virginal?”
Or maybe they want to know the Official Definition for Virgin because one of those people told them “I am a virgin.” But if you have to head for a sex expert for the real definition of virgin, then the likelihood is that the person who said it didn’t know either. So it still won’t help if I give you the definitive definition.
And all of this conversation about virginity brings to mind the very yucky side of a strict definition of virginity, like hymenoplasty (hymen restoration surgery). Judith Warner wrote a fabulous piece about just this thing recently for the New York Times. Here is a quote:
“But there is nonetheless a kind of horror to [fathers who attend Purity Balls with their daughters] obsession with their daughters’ sexuality. There is a dangerous boundary violation contained in their vow “before God to cover my daughter as her authority and protection in the area of purity.” And there is even greater danger to the fact that this particular aspect of the nationwide “abstinence movement” has not been broadly denounced as the form of emotional violence against girls that it indisputably is.”
Warner is basically saying, as I have said in circumspect ways to parents, teachers, teenagers: “Who gives a shit?”
Why do you or anyone else care who is a virgin? Why does this single word have so much power over you? I won’t define the word for you, because I reject the word itself. And so should you.